This week’s newsletter features an exhibition with VII Mentor Program photographer Sharon Castellanos, a behind-the-scenes look at Ziyah Gafic and Paul Lowe’s recent workshop in Bosnia, and a podcast with Ed Kashi.
Ed Kashi is featured on the newest “A Small Voice” podcast with Ben Smith. In this episode, Ed speaks about being all about the issues, dealing with an emotional fallout, and hitting a wall in Peru.
“…I’m asking people who are sick to let me into their lives. Like, what an a**hole if I do that and then I’m not 100% there! Because on some level those people don’t need another person with a camera. So I’d better have a damned good reason to be getting into their lives and then I need to treat that with dignity and respect and the sort of preciousness of this opportunity that they’re giving me. And if I’m not at 100%, there’s something not good about that.”
In this week’s newsletter, we’re featuring a case study on Ed Kashi’s project “The Curse of the Black Gold,” which documents the half-century history of oil in Nigeria and the difficulties currently confronting the country and its people.
Curse of the Black Gold documents the half-century history of oil in Nigeria and the difficulties currently confronting the country and its people.
224 pages, b&w, powerHouse Books, 2008
3 Exhibitions of Archival Digital Pigment Prints
8 minutes, produced by Talking Eyes Media
It was Iraq that lead me to the Niger Delta. Actually, it was my work in Iraq that brought me to the attention of Michael Watts, a Berkeley-based scholar who has studied on issues of oil and conflict, especially in regards to the Niger Delta, for over thirty years. Through his guidance and generosity, he revealed this incredible story to me. After my first trip in July of 2004 with Michael, my eyes and heart were opened up, and my anger and disgust at the situation were set on fire. I became obsessed with the notion of trying to tell this very difficult but profoundly important geopolitical story in a visual way.
The Delta is where all of Nigeria’s plagues of political gangsterism, corruption and poverty seem to converge. It is this observation that makes reporting from here so critical. I returned on my own in late 2005 to continue the project and faced severe restrictions and frustrations. There were moments in Port Harcourt, lying in a dark, hot, mosquito infested room, wondering if I could continue there. It took all my willpower and strength to forge ahead – to see beyond my own weaknesses to overcome the seemingly insuperable obstacles that challenged me at every turn. I had no choice but to continue this project.
In 2006 I returned with a commission from the National Geographic magazine. With this new level of support, I was able to make breakthroughs to areas and subjects that had been virtually impossible before.
During the course of this project one of the most important subjects I needed to capture in images was MEND, The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. They are an armed and formidable militant group based in the cities and creeks of the Niger Delta, particularly in the western region of the delta in and around Warri (the so-called ‘Warri axis’). They are responsible for ‘shutting-in’ forty per cent of Nigeria’s oil industry through direct attacks on facilities, the taking of hostages and generally creating an inhospitable and unsafe environment for the oil industry.
To get access to this group it was necessary to communicate with a shadowy figure named Jomo Gbomo. I never knew if this was his real name, whether he was someone in my midst or if he might be based in Oxford, England or on another continent. Our only link was an email address. There were rumors he was a South African arms dealer, but nobody knew for sure. Whoever he was, Jomo was media-savvy and wrote with a flair that was reminiscent of Subcommandante Marcos.
The emails ranged from personal, direct conversations to general communiques to his journalist list about activities of the group. Generally, his pronouncements presaged what I would read later in the media or they were responses to developments on the ground, such as attacks on oil facilities or hostage takings. At times it was hilarious – always surreal – but in the end quite serious and potentially dangerous. Amidst the theatre and drama of masked militants lay an insurgency in which, as Jomo himself put it, ‘angry and bitter men’ were engaged in a ferocious struggle with the Nigerian state. I reached a point with Jomo where we were communicating nearly every day and I looked forward to his daily urgings, instructions, or vows to keep me safe. However, I accomplished my goal of access to MEND through other contacts as opposed to through Jomo; at least I think so. In the end, my perceived intimacy and trust might have been nothing more than another shadow in an enigmatic place that an outsider can never fully understand or trust.
What follows are excerpts of the emails we exchanged over a two-month period in the summer of 2006 from this ongoing online conversation that, in the end, lead me to important reporting, exclusive access to a very hard part of this project and powerful images. I never met Jomo Gbomo. At least, I don’t think so.
From: Ed Kashi Date: May 24, 2006 1:03:22 AM EDT To: Jomo Gbomo Subject: Re: National Geographic Photographer Dear Jomo, I am a photojournalist working with the National Geographic magazine on a story about the Niger Delta. I have already been there two previous times to develop a project that is looking at the effects of nearly 50 years of oil on the communities, people and environment in the Delta. I understand you can help me get close to MEND, which I see as a vitally important part of this story. I will be coming to Port Harcourt in a few days and would appreciate any help you could give me to accomplish this task. Best, Ed Kashi
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: May 25, 2006 8:03:22 AM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: National Geographic Photographer Thanks ed, we are always eager to get our story out. We had earlier resolved not to have any contacts with the media except by way of this email address. Perhaps that will be reconsidered. I will think about this and get back to you as soon as i can. Im a great fan of the national geographic.
From: Ed Kashi Date: May 31, 2006 5:59:29 AM EDT To: Jomo Gbomo Subject: Re: National Geographic Photographer Dear Jomo, I am now in Port Harcourt and have begun my work for the National Geographic. I am leaving for Warri this afternoon to work in that area and the creeks. If we could meet that would be great. I am hoping you can help me. Thanks Ed
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: June 1, 2006 2:20:21 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: National Geographic Photographer Hi ed, sorry i will be unable to meet with you. If i can be of help to you, i sure will. It may not be posible however for you to meet with us at this point in time.
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: June 3, 2006 1:07:27 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: National Geographic Photographer Hi ed, promise i’l try my best to accommodate you. As i said, im a faithful follower of the national geographic
ed kashi wrote: Dear Jomo, I understand the sensitivities of your work and how my needs might not be easy for you to fulfill. I am now in Warri and plan to head out into the creeks later today until Sunday night. I am in the delta until June 24 and except for June 12-15, I am available for you at any time. I appreciate your help and keeping in touch with me. Good luck and all the best, Ed
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: July 1, 2006 11:19:04 AM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: Unrest in the niger delta. Hi ed, i read about your experience. The international media shares your views. The nigerian government and its security apparatus is brutal. Extra-judical killings is usual in nigeria but this time, people who have fought with us were victims. I promise you we will repay this debt ten fold. When you come in august, you will meet me and all my senior commanders. However i will not grant any interviews nor allow myself to be photographed. You may be allowed to speak with and film any of my commanders who may be willing to speak with you. We will give you a comprehensive tour of the delta as you have not seen it. This is a promise, God willing.
Ed Kashi wrote: Dear Jomo, I am troubled to hear this news. I have returned home to America after a harrowing experience at the hands of the Nigerian Navy in Nembe. I don’t know if you read or heard about this. They didn’t mistreat me. Your comrades were not as fortunate. They continually told me that they were detaining me for my own good from the “militants”. I couldn’t tell them how I really felt, which is that they are the ones I fear. I am planning to return to the delta for August to finish my project for National Geographic. I appreciate any cooperation you can offer at that time. Ed
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: July 24, 2006 12:28:45 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: return dates Hi ed, this return date ensures you will be on time for the next wave of our attacks. This will be unrelenting and more punishing on the oil industry. You will be taken as far as you wish. We are capable of taking you through the states of the delta, meeting with our units scattered across the niger delta. You will be shown through villages that the nigerian government will not wish you to see as well as locations the nigerian military will not venture near. The choice remains yours. Decide how far you are willing or able to go. You will meet me but i dont know how much good that will be as i will not be granting any recorded interviews. As promised however, you may be permited to speak with any of my ground commanders who consents to an interview. See you this way
From: Ed Kashi Date: July 24, 2006 12:35:56 PM EDT To: Jomo Gbomo Cc: tom o’neill Subject: Re: return dates Dear Jomo, if it is not necessary to meet with you, then better to keep the security situation less stressful for both of us. Just let me know where I need to go and who I must contact and how. The writer, Tom O’Neill, will be accompanying me on this trip and he will need to do interviews with your commanders. Tom and I should plan a visit together so we can maximize our coverage in interviews and pictures. In terms of how far I am willing to go, my main concern is putting myself in a situation where I am with your men and we encounter Nigerian security forces. I can determine this as plans move closer to fruition. I look forward to your next instructions. thanks, Ed
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: July 24, 2006 1:22:06 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: return dates Hi, your safety is of great concern to us otherwise, how would our story get out? you will meet me cos i will be there and just that. I do not give recorded interviews but can attend to questions you or tom o’neil may have. The commanders can be filmed and interviewed. You are welcome to spend a day or two in any of our camps.When we take you through the creeks, we will ensure that you meet no security operatives and will always be taken in a clearly civilian boat, a good distance from our fighters. Like i said the choice remains yours. Be certain you will get all you ask for on this trip
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: July 24, 2006 1:43:27 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: return dates youre welcome. we look forward to opportunities such as this to tell our tale and like i said, ive always loved the national geographic
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 9, 2006 2:31:34 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: we’re here Hi ed, as i promised, the choice is yours. I will expose you to two of our camps in rivers state and perhaps two more in delta state. If you wish, we can take you on a tour of the delta from rivers state to delta state. I will meet with you as well as permit you to speak with our commanders. You will see the camps as they are with whatever types of arns are in the vicinity at the time of your visit. We wont like take you into any arms storage places or permit a close up veiwing of our weapons such as scrutinizing for serial numbers etc. When you have decided on how far you are willing to go, let me know. I will rather fix this meeting for any time from the 20th of august. We will take you to villages, to meet with chiefs and elders, ogoni youths etc. I promised to give you a tour like you are unlikely to ever get. Im prepared to fulfil this promise. Tell me what you want.
Ed Kashi wrote: Jomo, I and my writer, Tom O’Neill, are now in Port Harcourt. We will be here working on the story for National Geographic until Sept. 3rd. Except for the days of Aug. 16-19, we are available to work with you and your people. We are very interested in seeing whatever you are willing to show us for photos, including camps, your commanders and armed fighters. Tom also wants to talk to your members as well. I look forward to hearing from you either via my cell number below or this email. Thanks, Ed
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 9, 2006 3:04:52 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: we’re here Sorry bout that ed, networks really poor where im at. August 21 is fine by me. You will start in rivers state and end up in delta. I will make contacts to ensure you meet people of relevance. By that i mean mostly the youth groups in rivers, bayelsa and delta states. Its up to you if you wish to go through the creeks to bayelsa and delta or if you want us to meet up with you in these states. A trip through the creeks will be quite an unforgetable experience. Let me state hereagain that you safety is of paramount concern to me and no one will do anything to jeopadize that. We will take you through the creeks mostly with special civilian boats that can be hired regularly. If you are going through the creeks however and you wish, i can detail a number of our fighters who will be quite carefully concealed to escort you. Do not be of the misconception that the creeks are swarming with nigerian security patrols. Its very far from that as you will find out. that story is meant for foreign governments to assume the safety of their citizens is gauranteed by the nigerian government. Look forward to meeting with you and tom as well. keep safe
Ed Kashi wrote: Dear Jomo, We got cut off but to restate…how about starting on Aug 21? We would like the grand tour and try to do as much as possible with what you’ve suggested below. Just let us know where and when to meet you. Thanks and be well, Ed
From: Ed Kashi Date: August 9, 2006 3:12:29 PM EDT To: Jomo Gbomo Subject: making plans Jomo, that sounds fine. I would think we want the full tour on the creeks. Just let us know how much time you expect we’ll be out so we come prepared. Thank you and I look forward to hearing more and meeting you. Best, Ed
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 9, 2006 3:19:10 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: we’re here You will shortly recieve a call from the ogoni youth leader whom my ground commander in port harcourt has just spoken with. He will arrange for you to be conducted around places the government will not want you to go and see people they will not wish you to see either. Ogoniland has fighters with us for your information.Feel free to make whatever requests you have of them during your tour. If its beyond them, i will be contacted.
From: Ed Kashi Date: August 9, 2006 4:34:50 PM EDT To: Jomo Gbomo Subject: Re: making plans thanks…I’ve already received a call from the Ogoni Youth President and we are going out with him tomorrow. Thank you, Ed
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 9, 2006 5:04:48 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: making plans Anytime bro
From: Ed Kashi Date: August 13, 2006 7:05:42 PM EDT To: Jomo Gbomo Subject: Re: unrest in the niger delta Jomo, we are all quite shaken by the fierce gun battles that just took place right outside of our compound. We thought they were coming for us, but thank goodness we are fine. I can see things have heated up and Tom and I must be very careful and stay in at night.
From: Jomo Gbomo <email@example.com> Date: August 13, 2006 7:26:16 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: unrest in theniger delta I was informed so. No one can take you guys anyway, Be sure about that. Im more worried about you been hit by a stray bullet or something. They came for the other white guys. If by any chance you are taken be sure to tell anyone you are here at our instance. You will be released immediately or else………………? Always give me notice of your movement and sign in each night for your safety. I want to be able to act in good time if the unexpected occurs
From: Ed Kashi Date: August 13, 2006 7:38:18 PM EDT To: Jomo Gbomo Subject: Re: unrest in the niger delta I’ll try to do my best to check in. I really appreciate this. Thanks man. I keep a copy of my passport and assignment letter from NG, so hopefully if anything happens it can be sorted out…but I hope it won’t get that far. The stray bullets are definitely not appealing! Good night…best, Ed
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 13, 2006 8:00:37 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: unrest in the niger delta Good night and keep safe
From: Ed Kashi Date: August 14, 2006 2:03:34 PM EDT To: Jomo Gbomo Subject: I need your help please Dear Jomo, we have been turned down by Shell for tomorrow and Thursday due to increased hostage taking, so we are trying to organize a plan of action for our work tomorrow (Tuesday) and Thursday. I have spoken with Marvin Yobana and he sounds a bit skeptical but he told me that a leaking well that he showed us last week has exploded and is on fire. This is exactly what we need for our work. I have asked him to take us and if he is not available we have our own transportation and guide to go with. But we don’t want to cause any problems or get into trouble. I have worked here enough to know you don’t venture into places without proper representation. Anyway, please sir contact Marvin to ask him to help us. We need to shove off as early as possible to document this fire and environmental disaster. Thanks, Ed
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 14, 2006 2:15:41 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: I need your help please I will instruct that. Expect a call.
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 21, 2006 7:21:08 AM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: ready and waiting… Hi ed, im sorry i may not be able to arrange the trip for you today or in the early future. The earliest time i anticipate may be the end of this month. In trying to effect the release of all hostages in the delta, we sent out 14 of our fighters to a community in bayelsa holding a shell worker. They effected his release and on the way back to the camp, were ambushed by aobut 100 nigerian army soldiers in 10 gunboats. We lost 10 of our fighters in this attack and are in moourning. This is a big blow to us as the attack was unprovoked and without warning. We are meeting over this and other issues so it will be impossible at this point to do anything else. Hope you understand. Yours truly
From: Ed Kashi Date: August 21, 2006 7:36:48 AM EDT To: Jomo Gbomo Subject: tragic news Dear Jomo, I’m very sorry to hear this news and we completely understand your situation. If there is any way for us to cover the aftermath of this attack, we are interested. Otherwise, we will regroup and work on other subjects until we hear from you again. We are available until Sept 2nd…anytime, anywhere. But if there is any way to get to you and cover what has happened to your fighters, please let us know. stay safe and accept our sympathies…Ed
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 21, 2006 7:50:54 AM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: tragic news Thanks ed. I may arrange for you to cover the burials, aftermath and our response which will come very soon
From: Ed Kashi Date: August 22, 2006 3:44:33 AM EDT To: Jomo Gbomo Subject: any way to do something Jomo, we know these are extraordinary days for you, but if there is any way to even spend a day or two this week to interview, witness and document things, please let us know. We are desperate to make contact as our time here is winding down and we’re fearful that we’ll miss any opportunities to chronicle your organization and men in our story. This would be a shame and a huge omission to our story on the Delta. Thanks, Ed
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 23, 2006 9:47:20 AM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: any way to do something Hi ed, sorry ive been out of circulation. Will get back to you later today. I understand your fears and will see what i can do about it
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 23, 2006 6:38:27 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: any way to do something Ok ed. Will get back to you later in the morning. You see most of our fighters are regular guys working on rigs, in universities etc. They walk around towns and cities freely and all of this could be jeopardized very easily by exposure. Its not too comfortable conducting a funeral whicn will involve lots of traditional dancing in balaclavars. We will consider this and reach you as early as posible morow.
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 26, 2006 5:21:11 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: going to warri Ok. Sorry ive not been able to fulfil my part of the bargain. What do you want? I can arrange for you to meet anyone you want to meet there. The fighters will not be buried until we have the bodies still being held by the nigerian military. Then we will decide what to do. there have been promises of release.
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 28, 2006 8:22:00 AM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: going to warri Hi ed, please let me know when you get into warri I have arranged for you to speak with tompolo, the most superior ground commander in the western delta. Im afraid for now, that is the closest you will get to me. He will allow you free access and answer for questions as best he can.He is not well schooled by a very intelligent and forthright person. I have never allowed this sort of contact in the past and this is like a compensation for not keeping to my promise made before you left from nigeria, You may discuss the issue of the burials and feel free to ask whatever you feel will be of value to you. If they are not sure, i will be contacted for clarification. There will be no further hostage taking for ransome. I have instructed that across the entire niger delta. Please abide by whatever rules you are subjected to when you arrive at the first camp, respecting the wishes of those who may not wish to be captured on film. They have all been instructed to be as cooperative as posible and will more or less act to your script. You will be contacted on your cell phone. I learnt your phone has been switched off for sometime now.
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 28, 2006 11:35:19 AM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: going to warri As i told you, feel free with him and explain exactly what you want. He is under my instruction to give you as much leeway as posible. Tell him i said you must be given access to all the camps. No one knows me as jomo. they know who sent you there and you may try but i doubt if anyone will speak to you about me. You may try if you wish though. In addition, there are many very bad communities in delta state you may wish to visit
Ed Kashi wrote: Now that there is a plan for tomorrow, our goals for tomorrow are to interview Tompolo and some of his commanders (if photos of any of them are possible that would be good too), we want to photograph any aspects of the camp that you will allow. Basically, we will interview and photograph anything that you make available to us tomorrow.
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 28, 2006 2:20:08 PM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: going to warri Very well They will take you anywhere you wish to and allow you access to most things. it is important to us the world understands the galvanizing factor beneath our struggle. We have been called all kinds of names in the american media by those who have not bothered to be as thorough as you have chosen to be. Some like to la times which may have sent someone to abuja concluded in their april 30, 2006 editorial that we are thugs whose methods are reprehensible. It is assumed that our motivation is derived from a desire to steal little amounts of crude oil from pipelines. What we are fighting for aside from what we term to be a liberation of the niger delta peoples from 50 years of political and economic slavery, is that the truth be heard everywhere about our fight for the freedom of the peoples of the niger delta who have cried out in vain for help. The truth as we all know is unambiguos and no matter how well camoflaged, will not remain hidden forever. We hope the truth no matter how you have seen it, will come to light and not our side of the story. We have nothing to say to anyone, go around as freely as you wish and decide if we have reason to fight.
Ed Kashi wrote: Jomo, we are keenly interested in visiting these undeveloped and poor communities, as well as any recent spill sites…thanks
From: Jomo Gbomo Date: August 29, 2006 4:14:15 AM EDT To: Ed Kashi Subject: Re: going to warri Hi ed, i thought when i communicated with you it, was going to be in strict confidence Why did you show my email around to people who can do nothing for you. i am greatly offended by this and very reluctant to continue with this thing. The news around is that you are unreliable and cannot gaurantee the safety and confidentiallity of infornation you gather. Tompolo heard about your showing off my mail and will not see you out of fear for his safety. I understand and will not push it.
From: Ed Kashi Date: August 29, 2006 4:56:16 AM EDT To: Jomo Gbomo Subject: Re: going to warri I”m not sure what I did wrong, but I’m very sorry. I shared your email only with my colleague Tom and my fixer. I have not shown it to anybody else. If I have screwed up, then it is only my fault, but I bear no harm towards you or your organization. Please let me know if there is something I can do to rectify this situation.
From: Ed Kashi Date: August 29, 2006 4:59:36 AM EDT To: Jomo Gbomo Subject: Re: going to warri I don’t know what I’ve done wrong to break your trust and as always will abide by your instructions, but I must emphasize that I am true to my word and have only shared with people who I trust or am working with.
From: Ed Kashi Date: August 29, 2006 5:37:41 AM EDT To: Jomo Gbomo Subject: Re: going to warri I never showed your email to anyone at the Wellington and I’m not even staying there. We were there last night with people I was led to believe are part of your organization. I did not even speak of any emails. Yesterday afternoon, in my hotel room at the Broadwell, which is where I’m staying, I showed your email to Tom, my fixer and our local guide who has been taking us about around Warri and the creeks around Warri. That is it. This is absolutely a terrible situation I find myself in now. But you must believe me that I have not shared your information indiscriminately nor would I ever And I only shared the one email yesterday. So please don’t accuse me of things I have not done. I realize you must do what you must do, and I might have forfeited my opportunity to get a deeper story. That would be a shame and as I write this I”m lamenting my apparent inability to steer these confusing waters. But I mean no harm to anyone here. I shared your last email with my colleagues in respect to the dangerous situation in the delta here. I feel like I”ve failed you and my work. I hope this situation can be rectified. I have only come here to tell this important story.
On Aug 29, 2006, at 10:06 AM, Jomo Gbomo wrote: Theres not a problem. Only thing is tompolo is afraid to speak with you. Says you may promise to hide his identity and show like you have shown my mail. I heard you displayed it at wellington hotel in warri and really think besides your colleague, you had no business showing my mail to anyone else. I have asked them to go around with you but cannot gaurantee you speaking with anyone of relevance anymore The news has gone round and everyone is scared to speak with you even in balaclavas and like i told you, i cannot force anyone to do otherwise.
From: Ed Kashi Date: August 29, 2006 6:05:53 AM EDT To: Jomo Gbomo Subject: Re: going to warri I hope this person comes as you say and we can try to move forward in our work, with whatever restrictions must be. Any conversations we have will be along the rules the people we are with dictate. We just want to tell a great story and explain what is going on here to the world. I have also learned an important lesson. I will not show my emails to anyone else but Tom. That is a promise. We are waiting and still hopeful. Again, I apologize for this misunderstanding and appreciate and respect your willingness to engage with me. I am leaving my email for now to wait in the lobby of the Broadwell…my phone is open.
On Aug 29, 2006, at 10:56 AM, Jomo Gbomo wrote: I understand ed . let me see what i can do but as i mentioned, i cannot force people to speakwith you against their will. You really shouldnt have shown the mail to anyone other than tom. Problem is even if you get to speak with anyone, they may be more gaurded in their conversation with you.Someone will be there to see you just now and we will take it from there
In the end nobody showed up. I made my way to the funerals and creeks where MEND was through my own contacts. But I’ll never know how much was triangulated behind my back. As always, the real decisions took places in the shadows, out of my sight.
What is taking place in the Niger Delta at this time is nothing short of a military struggle against state security forces that have an awful reputation and a violent state machinery. Secrecy – and publicity about their cause – is something that has to be balanced. The violent struggle of the Delta is a backlash to a long history of exploitation, the presence of transnational corporations, the style of doing politics, where violence is often encouraged and supported, and the sheer welter of groups, gangs, and cults.
The Niger Delta is one of the most difficult places I’ve ever worked. The people are hesitant and suspicious of outsiders, the terrain is tricky with places only reachable by small boats, and danger lurks for the intruder along every road and waterway. It was in June of 2006 that I experienced my greatest nightmare, when I was arrested illegally by the Nigerian military. I was attempting to photograph flow stations in the creeks of Nembe. The local boatmen we hired lied to us about the presence of military so they could get some extra cash. We knew if there was military present at the installations, we couldn’t photograph. We relied on faulty information and paid the price. My fixer and I were detained for four harrowing days, our possessions and equipment were confiscated, we were locked in a room and were never told our fate. In the end we were released because of the great work of Nigerian friends, human rights workers, the media, the National Geographic and my wife. I understand that most people are not as fortunate and would have endured a much longer, painful incarceration. This event left me empowered and even more determined to pursue my goal of creating a visual body of work to tell the untold story of the Niger Delta.
One must always remain open in their hearts and minds to make the most out of life. This is what makes life worth living and allows one the opportunity to witness the unimaginable. It was from my chance encounter with Michael that I was given the opportunity to work in the Niger Delta to attempt to shed some light into its world of shadows.
Behind the Photo
A young worker carries the carcass of a freshly killed goat to be roasted by the flames of burning tires at the Trans Amadi abattoir of Port Harcourt, the capital of the Rivers state, Nigeria on June 22, 2006. The slaughterhouse maintains deplorable conditions, lacking organization and basic hygiene. The animals are killed in the open, their blood spilling into the waterways below, and their skins burned by the flames of old tires, creating thick clouds of black smoke over neighboring residential villages.
Listen to Ed Kashi tell the story behind this image:
Photos from the installation at the George Eastman House, Rochester, NY.
2010 – Prix Pictet, Lausanne, Switzerland
2009 – Noorderlicht Gallery, The Netherlands
2009 – University of Michigan
2009 – World Bank Headquarters, Extractive Industries Week, Washington, D.C.
2009 – Open Society Foundations/Moving Walls, Washington, D.C.
2009 – Mesa College Gallery, San Diego, CA
2009 – Johns Hopkins University, Oxfam Sponsored Exhibition (traveled to 10 universities throughout the United States).
2009 – RayKo Gallery, San Francisco, CA
2009 – powerHouse Arena, Brooklyn, NY
2009 – George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
2009 – Fifty Crows Gallery, San Francisco, CA
2009 – Mesa Gallery, San Diego, CA
2009 – World Bank, Washington, D.C.
2009 – Leica Gallery, New York, NY
2009 – Open Society Foundations/Moving Walls, New York, NY
2008 – HOST Gallery, London
2005 – Grand Central Station, New York, NY
2010 – The Prix Pictet Commission
2009 – Independent Publishers (IPPY): Gold Medal for Curse of the Black Gold Book
2008 – PX3: Prix De La Photographie, Paris
2008 – New York Photo Festival: 1st place Multimedia
2008 – Days Japan Magazine: Special Award, Photojournalism Awards
2008 – American Photography 24, Photo Annual
2008 – Photo District News, Photography Annual
2008 – Communication Arts Photography Annual 49
2007 – Visa Pour L’Image Photo Festival: Solo Projection
2006 – Days Japan Magazine: Special Jury Award
2005 – International Photo Awards: Honorable Mention
The book Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta has been incorporated into the curriculum for all African Studies’ majors at the University of Michigan.
Bios of Editor, Photographer and Contributors of “Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta”
“Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta” — Photographs by Ed Kashi, Edited by Michael Watts
Q&A with Ed Kashi, Photographer of “Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta”
Q&A with Michael Watts, Editor of “Curse of the Black Gold,” and Director of African Studies at the University of California, Berkeley